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A Pennsylvania state senator who claims former President Donald Trump encouraged him to run for governor is now trying to do an Arizona-style “forensic audit” of his state’s votes, claiming it’s “critically necessary for our Commonwealth for the sake of transparency and accountability.”
State Sen. Doug Mastriano called for an audit of Pennsylvania’s election on Wednesday, sending letters to Philadelphia and the smaller counties of York and Tioga “requesting information and materials needed to conduct a forensic investigation of the 2020 General Election and the 2021 Primary,” according to a statement posted on his website. (Primaries for some local offices in Pennsylvania were held on May 18.)
Mastriano gave the counties until July 31 to submit a plan for compliance. That compliance is voluntary, however, and so far no subpoenas have been issued.
“The counties represent different geographical regions of Pennsylvania and differing political makeups. Some are Republican while others are Democrat, which means that this will be a balanced investigation,” Mastriano reasoned.
There were nearly three times as many votes cast in Philadelphia, which was overwhelmingly won by Joe Biden on his way to winning the state, as there were in York and Tioga, which were both comfortably won by Trump. But Trump and his allies have repeatedly and baselessly alleged that Philadelphia election officials broke the law, and even unsuccessfully attempted to get thousands of mail-in ballots thrown out in Philadelphia and suburban Montgomery County.
In February, the state of Pennsylvania did a “risk-limiting audit” of 45,000 votes from around the state, which included 63 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties and involved county election officials as well as experts from groups such as the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.
“Risk-limiting audits provide additional confidence in the accuracy of election outcomes, further strengthen our ability to withstand an attack on our electoral system, and confirm that the outcome of an election is accurate,” Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar said at the time. In his statement Wednesday, Mastriano said the risk-limiting audit was “not nearly the type of investigation that was needed to determine any fraud, misconduct, or technical anomalies.”
The office of the Philadelphia City Commissioners told VICE News Thursday that the city is reviewing the letter sent by Mastriano, and had no comment, but added that it “reiterates claims about the November 2020 election that have been resoundingly rejected by courts.”
“The repetition of baseless claims by elected officials poses a real challenge to our democratic processes,” the city’s three top election officials—Democrats Lisa Deeley and Omar Sabiq and Republican Al Schmidt—said in a statement to VICE News. “We are committed to continuing the hard work of ensuring that Philadelphians are able to exercise their right to vote.”
York County election officials also confirmed to VICE News that they received an electronic copy of the letter, but declined further comment. Tioga County did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
After the Capitol riot on January 6, more than a hundred Republican lawmakers voted against certifying the election results in Arizona and Pennsylvania. Since leaving office, Trump has pushed Republicans in Pennsylvania and elsewhere to invent ways to prove he actually won, despite all evidence to the contrary. Last month, Trump went so far as to call out State Senate President Jake Corman for not pushing hard enough for an Arizona-style audit.
“I feel certain that if Corman continues along this path of resistance, with its lack of transparency, he will be primaried and lose by big numbers,” Trump said in a June 14 statement.
Mastriano, on the other hand, has been fully on board with Trump’s efforts from the beginning. Mastriano, who represents a swath of central Pennsylvania, contracted COVID-19 last November days after he organized a hearing attended by hundreds of people, including Trump election lawyer Rudy Giuliani, which Mastriano falsely claimed “revealed numerous election irregularities” in the state.
Mastriano found out he was positive for COVID-19 during a meeting with Trump at the White House.
Mastriano and a group of other Pennsylvania Republicans were given a tour of the Maricopa County audit facility last month by CyberNinjas CEO Doug Logan, whose company is running the audit. “I’m not about overturning anything,” Mastriano claimed to the Wall Street Journal at the time. “I’m just trying to find out what went right, what went wrong? And how do we have better elections in the future?”
By any objective measure, the Arizona audit has been a mess. CyberNinjas had never done an audit before they were commissioned by the Republican-led state Senate to conduct a recount of Maricopa County’s 2.1 million ballots, which provided the margin of victory and then some for Biden in Arizona last year. Logan himself boosted conspiracy theories about the election, there have been substantial security lapses documented by election observers, and even Republican county officials have derided Cyber Ninjas as “grifters and con artists,” and the process itself as a “circus.”
The ongoing shambles is also set to cost Arizona taxpayers millions, as Secretary of State Katie Hobbs and Maricopa County officials agreed that the subpoenaed voting machines used in the audit have now been compromised and can never be used again.
But for Mastriano, spearheading Trump's lost cause in Pennsylvania has carried political benefits. In May, Mastriano told a local radio station that Trump said he would back him in a run for governor next year. “He said, ‘Doug, run, and I’ll campaign for you,” Mastriano said at the time. And in June, Mastriano won a Republican gubernatorial straw poll during the Pennsylvania Leadership Conference.
One of Mastriano’s potential opponents, current Attorney General Josh Shapiro, said Wednesday that the counties “should refuse to participate in this partisan fishing expedition,” and referenced the debacle over Maricopa County’s voting machines as part of the reason.
“Right now this information is being requested voluntarily but should subpoenas be issued, you can expect our office to do everything to protect the Commonwealth, its voters and the free, fair election that was held in Pennsylvania,” Shapiro tweeted.
This article has been updated throughout to reflect recent developments.